Leisure in Lichfield

The Society's guest speaker for the September meeting was C'llr Colin Ablitt, the District Council portfolio holder for Community, Communications and Culture. Although holding a wide ranging remit, C'llr Ablitt's talk largely concentrated upon his cultural responsibilities as member of the new-style "cabinet" which steers the District Council's work.

Predictably, his first topic was a state of health report on the Garrick Theatre. In operation for more than a year, it has performed beyond expectations. With a turnover of over £1.3 million, it has attracted over 75,000 people. They have seen 140 different shows and visited 8 art exhibitions. Just as important has been its role as a base for Arts Development throughout the District. For example the newly appointed Youth Music Development Officer has been able to nurture youth bands supported by the facilities at the Garrick. It is also establishing a role as a conference centre, because of the number of adaptable multifunctional rooms available for workshops. The audiences were building well and the theatre was proving a popular base for local, amateur societies.

However, the members of the Society where keen to make C'llr Ablitt aware of some operational problems with the theatre. There was criticism of the soulless coffee bar, the décor of which was less welcoming than its predecessor. The art exhibitions were felt to be difficult to access. The bar was poorly designed and there was universal criticism of the need to have continuous rows of seats in the auditorium which it was felt made access and egress more difficult and time consuming. On this point C'llr Ablitt explained that financially it was necessary to accommodate 500 seats in the auditorium and the physical constraints then dictated continuous rows.

C'llr Ablitt next turned to Sports and Leisure Centres, talking about the facilities at King Edward's School, The Friary and Burntwood Leisure Centre. Setting out the range of facilities they provide, he also explained that they are used to support sports development in the community. For example, the Council has launched a number of schemes with other organisations and Government agencies (for instance, "Access for Leisure" for disabled persons) designed to foster involvement in sports for the less privileged members of the community. This work is led by three sports development officers. Turning to parks and open spaces, he gave a brief run down of the range of facilities available. Some time was spent debating cycling problems in Beacon Park and C'llr Ablitt was left in little doubt of the Society's growing concern over the continuence of cycling despite bye laws to the contrary.

The question and answer session also revealed the Society's concern's over the impending loss of arts display space at Donegal House. Whilst display space was available at the Garrick Theatre, many felt this was an inadequate substitute for existing, albeit limited facilities.

Members who were unable to attend missed a lively and worthwhile debate with an important member of the District Council.

Roger Hockney
September 2004